Colombia: A Powder Keg? 1/1/09
The government of Colombian President Uribe is in the midst of a number of delicate and dangerous situations. By accepting nearly $5 billion from the U.S. to fight the drug trade, the government has placed itself not only in opposition to the powerful and well armed drug cartels, but also leftist anti-U.S. guerrilla groups (most notably the FARC) that have aligned with neighbor Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and others. Add to the mix a society with some extreme economic disparities and you have a potential for an explosive situation. Join Active Minds as we examine these tensions and what they portend for Colombia's future.
Key Lecture Points:
• Over the past two decades, Latin America has seen a rise in the number of countries with leftist leaders, such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Under President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia has been a strong U.S. ally in Latin America. By the same token, President Bush has been a strong supporter of Uribe. Colombia is waiting to see what the change to an Obama Administration will mean for their country.
• In particular, President Obama will take up the issue of Plan Colombia. In 2000, Plan Colombia was approved by the U.S. Congress to provide Colombia with $1 billion of aid to combat the cultivation and shipping of illegal drugs into the U. S. (90% of the cocaine sold on American streets comes from Colombia). With limited progress made in drug interdiction efforts in the rugged country of Colombia and the current U. S. economic crisis, President Obama and Congress will give close scrutiny to all major expenditures, including aid to Colombia.
• Also impacting the future of U.S.-Colombian relations is the pending Trade Pact. Stalled in the Senate for two years, Colombia sees the passage of this treaty as a tangible show of support for their country. Proponents see the trade pact as strong statement of support for a US ally. Opponents cite their concern about loss of jobs overseas, as well as a perception of opposition to unions in Colombia.
• Given his statements during the presidential campaign, what do you think will be Obama’s position regarding the Colombian trade pact and our future relations with Colombia?
• How can the U.S. work with other nations on the War on Drugs? (Not just Colombia but Afghanistan and Mexico)
• What is the impact on a national identity when assassination and kidnapping are a part of daily life?
• Have you visited Colombia? Did you feel concerned for your safety?
• Simon Bolivar is considered the leader of independence for much of Latin America. Do you see any parallels between Bolivar and our founding father, George Washington?
More to Explore:
• U.S. State Department on Colombia: www.state.gov
• BBC Coverage of Colombia: http://news.bbc.co.uk
• LA Times Interview with Colombian Defense Minister regarding Obama Transition: www.latimes.com
Books For Further Reading:
• Dudley, Steven. Walking Ghosts: Murder & Guerrilla Politics in Colombia. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. 2005. 127 pages. Dudley covered Colombia for the Washington Post and NPR for five years. He chronicles the rise and fall of the Patriotic Union Party (UP), Colombia’s insurgency, the drug war and U.S. intervention. Click here to order.
• Kirk, Robin. More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence and America’s War in Colombia. Public Affairs, 2004. 301 pages. Robin Kirk is a researcher for Human Rights Watch. His book describes the political situation in Colombia, the War on Drugs and its effect on human rights in Colombia. Click here to order.
• Bowden, Mark. Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw. Penguin Books, 2001. 296 pages. Bowden tells the violent story of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord and the U.S. involvement in the 16 month manhunt for Escobar. Click here to order.